Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

The survey found that young people wanted to see the role religion played in government reassessed. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 30 April 2019

Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

  • Young Arabs believe that drugs are too freely available in society
  • Three quarters of young Saudis say they are optimistic about their futures

DUBAI: Young Arabs believe religion plays too big a role in their lives and want their religious institutions reformed, according to the latest annual survey of attitudes of young people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Young Saudi citizens also believe overwhelmingly that the Kingdom - under the Vision 2030 strategy - is heading in the right direction, and that its economy is on track, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, unveiled today, reveals.

Young Saudis demonstrate optimism in their personal future, with three quarters of those polled saying that they will have a better life than their parents, and only 10 per cent expecting to be worse off.

The 11th annual survey is based on 3,300 interviews with Arabs between the ages of 18-24, split equally between men and women, in January this year.

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding in the 2019 survey is that young Arabs seem to want a reduced role for religion in their lives. Some 66 per cent of those polled said that religion plays too big a role, with an even bigger number - 79 per cent - calling for reform of their religion’s institutions.

The findings come as the Arab News series “Preachers of Hate” explored the destructive influence religious extremists have had on society.

Half said religion was holding the region back, while nearly the same proportion said religion was losing its influence in the region - a finding especially pronounced in North Africa and the Levant.

Young Arabs are also increasingly tired of war and civil strife. A big majority - nearly three quarters - believe the war in Syria should end regardless of the regime in power there. But another big majority remain concerned about the Palestine-Israel conflict. Nearly 60 percent believe that Sunni-Shia relations have deteriorated over the past ten years.

In international relations, 59 percent view the USA as an enemy, while 37 percent see Russia as a strong ally, almost as many view America the same say (38 percent).

Most of those polled - around 60 percent - say the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would have no or only temporary impact on Saudi Arabia’s image around the world.

Most young Arabs think the rising cost of living is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, and many - 65 percent - say they want their governments to do more for them, especially in education and healthcare.

The survey also included for the first time questions about youth attitudes to drugs and mental illness, with a large number of respondents saying that illegal drug use was on the rise and drugs were easy to obtain. Mental health is an increasingly important issue, with nearly one third saying they knew someone who was suffering from mental health problems.

Sunil John, president of Asda’a BCW, said: “This year’s findings show that youths are looking at their governments to reshuffle their priorities, especially when it comes to the role played by religion and seemingly endless conflicts – and they want to see change.

“Young Arabs who have grown up against a backdrop of extremism and geopolitical conflicts are tired of the region being defined by war and conflict. They say they want their leaders to focus on the economy and providing better services such as quality education and healthcare.”


Startup of the Week: Wayakit, the biotech firm helping travelers beat odors and stains

Updated 10 December 2019

Startup of the Week: Wayakit, the biotech firm helping travelers beat odors and stains

  • Wayakit leaves the clothes clean and fresh again

JEDDAH: Wayakit is a biotechnology start-up incubated by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

KAUST Ph.D students Sandra Medina and Luisa Javier are avid travelers who have come up with a pocket-sized product that deals with both odors and stains on fabrics, leaving the cloths clean and fresh again.

Wayakit is also gentler on fabrics because traditional laundry eventually damages them, said Javier, who first moved to Saudi Arabia from Mexico ten years ago.

Her business partner, Sandra Medina, who came from Colombia to study at KAUST, explained to Arab News how Wayakit works. “You just spray the smelly area twice and you’re good to go. In the case of stains, you spray twice and then pat dry it with a tissue and it will disappear,” she said.

The idea for the product came during a trip for a conference two years ago when the travelers realized their luggage was lost “We had to present with our dirty, seven-hours’ flight clothes,” Javier told Arab News.

“We started looking into the possibility then, because there’s not a proper solution to doing laundry while traveling,” she said.

 

They decided they needed to come up with a product that was not pricey, was easy to carry, and did the job by removing stains and bad odors “on-the-go.”

 

 

The duo began by interviewing more than 100 travelers of 23 different nationalities to find out if this was a common issue that travelers struggled with.

 

“From the Entrepreneurship Center at KAUST, we learned the importance of listening first to the customers before designing any product,” said Medina. From these interviews, Wayakit team got the product requirements and then moved into the lab to start working on the formulation of Wayakit. “The amazing facilities and labs in KAUST helped us to speed up the creation of our first prototype. After this, the same KAUST community was the people who first tried Wayakit and gave us feedback. “In KAUST we do not only have state-of-the-art labs, but also a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Medina added.

Wayakit is different from its competitors in that it contains no toxic chemicals, and covers a broader spectrum in covering stains — it is two products in one. It also contains anti-bacterial properties, acting as a sanitizer that “removes all the stains that occur on a day-to-day basis as well as being an odor remover,” Javier said.

The pair went for a biotechnology-based formula that excluded the usage of oxidizers and focused on more organic compounds. “Even the anti-bacterial properties are not toxic as we incorporated these in an environmentally friendly formulation,” she said.

The Wayakit founders had to rigorously test their product, dealing with different types of sweat and stains to perfect their spray. “We had to give testers to travelers to try it out and had to listen to their feedback, then went back to the lab to improve it, in order to make sure the product was as promised.”

Medina said KAUST’s mentorship had also helped their company to develop. “KAUST for us is a catalyst of entrepreneurship and has given us a lot of room to grow our start-up Wayakit,” she said.

KAUST helped Wayakit by giving the advice and support from the start. From entrepreneurial courses to teaching the concepts of building a brand, KAUST encouraged Wayakit to grow from a scientific outlook and helped the founders to better understand the customer.

“As foreigners, it was difficult for us to understand the logistics and procurement of shipping and importing here in Saudi Arabia. KAUST has helped us to face that hurdle in order to be able to reach all our clients in the MENA region and worldwide,” Medina said. “Beyond helping travellers, our mission is to change the way how laundry is commonly done. We found a way to effectively wash clothes reducing water and energy consumption,” Javier said. 

Wayakit has recently began selling in Jeddah’s Homegrown Market, chosen because it is “a Middle Eastern brand store with unique ambience,” said Medina.